This Software Makes Cyberbullies Think Twice Before Sending Mean Messages

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Thanks to the relative anonymity the Internet provides, it's all too easy to type up something snarky—if not downright mean—and fire it off without really considering the consequences. But what if would-be cyberbullies were forced to stop and think about the weight of their words before they hit "Send"?

Trisha Prabhu, a 15-year-old high school student from Naperville, Illinois, is encouraging people to do just that. Two years ago, Prabhu read about an 11-year-old girl from Florida who committed suicide after dealing with a spate of cyber attacks from her classmates. The budding programmer became motivated to use her computer skills for good, and invented a software program called ReThink that recognizes common “bullying” phrases when they’re typed into a computer. After a cyber bully types a mean sentence, a pop-up window appears, asking the writer a simple yet effective question: “Are you sure you want to do that?” The bullies end up deleting their words 93 percent of the time, Prabhu’s studies show.

The idea earned Prabhu honors and accolades, including a finalist spot in last year’s Google Science Fair, a trip to the White House for its annual youth science exposition, and a spot in Coca-Cola’s “Make It Happy” campaign. And ReThink isn’t the only technology out there that’s designed to mitigate cyberbullying. Developed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the KnowBullying app gives concerned parents or caregivers tips on how to talk with their kids about bullying. Another app, called STOPit, lets kids safely and confidentially report bullying to adults and school administrators.

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 14.8 percent of students nationwide say they’ve been victims of cyberbullying. Considering this staggering statistic, mobile apps and anti-bullying computer programs such as Prabhu's hold the potential to help a lot of people.